Yet American beekeepers are frequently paid less than the cost production for their honey, and what is sold as honey can be up to 80% corn syrup. Regulation has been judged to be a low priority. And here's a warning: imports of Chinese honey were banned in 2002, as result of antibiotic contamination, yet curiously after that the top 12 honey-exporting countries now export more than total home production. Few checks are made.
A lot of their income is built around the Californian almond industry, which has around 25,000 blossoms that tree, 135 trees to an acre, and if those blossoms are to turn into a highly profitable almonds, needs to be pollinated by bees. Growers seek up to two colonies per acre at flowering time. It is described as "the largest managed pollination event in the world".
To achieve the numbers of bees required, keepers shift their hives long distances, feed them on artificial feeds, and force them to wake up when they should still be on a winter break. This is the life that Nordhaus recounts: "tthe bees work all summer, take a brief nap, then start summer again in February, going from complete dormancy to white-hot stimulation in the almonds, then to a nectarless post-bloom desert and, after a brief ride in the back of the huge truck, to the apple bloom, and then to the windswept northern prairies to wake the clover flow to begin. This is a lot of stimulation and dearth, and at some point all of those conflicting signals may be disruptive to the super organism of the hive. Farmers expect bees to function like yet another farm machine ... But these are living things, with short life spans to begin with – about six weeks from lava to winged maturity to senescence. Riding in trucks and eating fake flowers and living in a constant state of natural or artificial peak bloom can take it out of a bee. ... And then of course there's the danger of contagion – the fact that, for the six-week period when nearly every commercial hive n the country has been shipped to California ... pests and pathogens from one region hop with ease onto still untainted bees from the rest of the country."
Beyond the horrors of its agriculture, I learnt that there is a very good reason why honey bees are struggling more in America than possibly anywhere else — they are not native to North America. They first came the colonists in about 1620, but found the environment to their liking and spread across the Great Plains at a steady rate without human intervention. Nordhaus quotes Thomas Jefferson: "the Indians call them 'the white man's fly', and consider their approach is indicating the approach of the settlement of the whites."